THE MANA DORK—Building A Commander Deck, Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of Building a Commander Deck!
Last time, we talked about how much land to run (38, usually, with as much “fast mana” as possible), and we broke down the rest of the cards into five categories: mana, draw, threats, answers, and synergy.
Today, we’re going to look at one of my own decks, and I’ll talk about which cards go into which categories and how I decide what to cut.
The deck we’ll be looking at is Tasigur’s Indulgences, a political deck with a combo finish. The goal is to fill my graveyard with answer cards, then use Tasigur’s ability to “shop them around” and make deals with other players until I’m in a good enough board position to win.
- Avenging Druid
- Cabal Ritual
- Dark Ritual
- Expedition Map
- Kiora, Master of the Depths
- Kiora’s Follower
- Life from the Loam
- Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- Prophet of Kruphix
- Realm Seekers
- Sol Ring
- Sprouting Vines
- Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Tasigur needs a LOT of mana. His ability costs four mana to use, and then I need more mana on top of that to cast whatever answer someone has handed me from my graveyard.
I’ve made a couple of strange-looking choices for the mana suite, mostly because they have interactions with the graveyard. Avenging Druid, for example, works beautifully — I can usually cut a deal to ping somebody for one in return for favours later, and I get the next land in my library right away. Plus, all the cards that were on top of it go into my graveyard.
Realm Seekers is another hidden gem. It usually comes out pretty big — I’ve never had it enter as less than 17/17 — and it can pull any land from the deck. Any land. Hello, Command Tower!
Sprouting Vines is solid, again in green. Hold it in your hand, wait for a turn when the spells are flying, then grab a bunch of land. It can outperform a lot of other ramp spells, if you time it correctly.
Finally, the last cards I’ll make note of are Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual. These effects are, typically, a little too small in Commander. But I love using them in Tasigur, because they’re red herrings once they’re in my graveyard. If somebody doesn’t want to cut a deal with me and is looking for a “bad” card to give me, I’m okay with being handed a Ritual. Sure, I’ll take some bonus mana! Thanks so much!
- Jace Beleren
- Jace, Memory Adept
- Jace’s Archivist
- Kiora, Master of the Depths
- Mystic Remora
- Phyrexian Arena
- Teferi, Temporal Archmage
- Treasure Cruise
- Unfulfilled Desires
A little light on actual draw cards, especially for a deck with both blue and black. Many are repeatable, though—for a reason I’ll mention right away—so that frees up more space for cards that will help fill my graveyard.
The main win condition of my deck is a little guy by the name of Laboratory Maniac. He’s not very threatening on his own, but with a lot of help—namely, Doomsday, as well as certain types of draw spells—he can swing some games.
So, my draw spells here have been chosen with Doomsday and Laboratory Maniac in mind. Having repeatable draw on inexpensive, hard-to-remove permanents like Greed, Unfulfilled Desires (also great for filtering cards into my graveyard!), and the original Jace Beleren is good both early and late in the game, and makes it a lot easier to land the combo when I need to.
- Garruk, Apex Predator
- Laboratory Maniac
- Prophet of Kruphix
- Realm Seekers
- Steel Hellkite
- Vraska the Unseen
This is a political deck at heart, and a key element of playing politically is never looking like a threat. As I often say at the table (usually when I’m casting Sultai Charm on something big), “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. Best for Tasigur to go unnoticed, with a low number of actual threat cards.
Most of these are fairly self-evident, but then there’s the humble Prophet of Kruphix. As I mentioned in Part 1, she can function as both “threat” and mana source, because her ability is so very, very powerful. If she survives into other people’s turns, I’ve got more mana for Tasigur’s ability and can flash in “answer” creatures like Phyrexian Revoker. If she doesn’t, she’s absorbed some removal that would have otherwise gone to cards more central to my gameplan. Win-win!
- Evil Twin
- Glaring Spotlight
- Phyrexian Revoker
- Pithing Needle
- Plasm Capture
- Profane Command
- Rapid Hybridization
- Soul Manipulation
- Split Decision
- Sultai Charm
Lots of silver bullets here. These cards are my bread and butter in this deck—cards that can deal with almost any permanent, most of which are single-target, and most of which are repeatable.
The only boardwipe-like effect is on Ixidron, but boy, is it a doozy. The trick is that face-down creatures don’t count as manifests or morphs, so unless they already have a morph cost, they’re staying facedown until they die. This means that Ixidron doesn’t fill peoples’ graveyards or let them put commanders back in the command zone like other boardwipes, which can be very, very useful against some decks.
We discussed Pithing Needle in Part 1, and Phyrexian Revoker is essentially Pithing Needle stapled to a creature. Again, be careful using these ones on commanders, and you’ll want to make sure that the problem permanent you want to deal with has an activated ability (ie., a cost followed by a colon) rather than a triggered ability (something that starts with “When”, “Whenever”, or “At”). If it does, though—like planeswalkers, for example—these cards are some of the best in the format at dealing with it.
- Alchemist’s Refuge
- Hedron Crab
- Mirror-Mad Phantasm
- Nyx Weaver
- The Chain Veil
- Training Grounds
- Vedalken Orrery
- Yawgmoth’s Will
Almost all of the cards in the deck have some synergy with Tasigur and the deck’s goals, and I could talk for days about them. Instead, I’ve chosen to highlight the cards that are purely synergetic, rather than synergy+draw, or synergy+answer.
Mirror-Mad Phantasm is one of my favourite finds from the boxes at A Muse N Games. He’s an insane ghost who gets scared of his own reflection and hides in your library, which is itself adorable and beautifully flavourful. On top of that, when you go “find” him, all of the cards above him end up in your graveyard, which is amazing graveyard fuel! And the ability is so cheap, you can easily do it multiple times a turn!
The rest of them are fairly straightforward. Alchemist’s Refuge and Vedalken Orrery let me cast more than just instants on other peoples’ turns; The Chain Veil works nicely with the seven planeswalkers in the deck; Nyx Weaver both fills my yard and gets me stuff back from it; Yawgmoth’s Will turns my graveyard into my hand for a turn.
The above are cards that used to be in this Tasigur deck, that I’ve since cut. I’ll explain each of them in a moment.
When you’re making cuts—usually because you need to get down to 99 cards, or because you found a new card and need to make room for it—you need to ask yourself a few questions for each card:
- Which role does this card fill: mana, draw, threat, answer, or synergy?
- Do I have another card that does what this card does, but better? Can I therefore afford not to have this card in the deck?
- For permanents—does this card affect the battlefield right away, or does it only gain value over time?
- Am I happy when I draw this card?
Going through this routine will help whittle out the cards you really, really like, but aren’t quite good enough.
As for the cards above…
Amphin Pathmage—Originally, I included this card as a way to hand out political favours. Over a few plays, it became clear that I really couldn’t afford space for cards that purely benefited other players; they had to help me in some way, too. And, I had Rogue’s Passage in the deck, which could do this effect without taking up a non-land slot. So away he went.
Exploration—This was a cut made in order to make room for Nissa, Vastwood Seer. Multiple land drops a turn is pretty strong, but Nissa offered ramp and draw on a planeswalker, which worked nicely with The Chain Veil and the other ‘walkers in the deck.
Necropotence—My favourite card in all of Magic, and I completely misread it. Originally included as part of the Doomsday/Laboratory Maniac combo, it turns out that Necropotence doesn’t draw you cards. You set them aside, and then you put them in your hand. That’s not draw. Also, it says your discards go to exile, making it useless earlier in the game. A shameful, shameful cut, that taught me to carefully read my cards before I put them in.
Splinterfright—Recommended to me along with Nyx Weaver, I picked it up… and then realized that it looks like wayyyy too much of a threat. A trampler that gets bigger and bigger? Naw, man, naw. This was an example of those times when a new card isn’t quite the slam-dunk inclusion it might look like at first glance.
Vorel of the Hull Clade—I tossed Vorel in because it had the potential to make games truly bonkers if I used him politically… but then I realized, that required my opponents to be running cards with lots of counters on them. Otherwise, this would be a completely dead draw. Counting on your oppponents to do things you want is never a good idea, so out this came.
THAT’S ALL, FOLKS
Thanks for reading! If you want to see Tasigur in action, come to A Muse N Games for some Commander every Friday night. I always have him with me, as he’s always a blast to run.
See you in two weeks!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every second Tuesday for The Mana Dork, his column on getting back into Magic.